Last Update - 10/2014
1 John 3:2-3 "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure"
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Becoming Like Jesus
Becoming like Jesus is a transformation depicted within the teachings of Christianity and Mormonism. However, the means of this change, when compared, are unmistakably different.
When I was a Mormon, I was always taught without good works, moral conformity and obedience to Mormon laws and ordinances, I would not obtain eternal life in heaven with God. Through lifelong obedience and striving for perfection to these teachings, I was hoping to day-by-day become more and more like Jesus so Heavenly Father would see how good I was and bless me for it. I hoped in the end, when I was being judged, I had more good to outweigh the bad and the grace God offers through believing in Christ would cover the rest. All this makes perfect sense to a Mormon, but when the Bible is contextually read and studied, a very different method of becoming like Jesus is revealed.
In the Bible, God tells us the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). What exactly does this "power" save us from you might ask? Let's look at the three effects the power of the Gospel of Christ has on all who believe.
Justification - We have been saved from the penalty of sin
Sanctification - We are being saved from the power of sin
Glorification - We will be saved from the presence of sin
Justification means we are declared righteous by God based on the performance record of Jesus Christ. This is a status we receive as a free gift and is ours until the day we die (Romans 3:22-24, 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9). The penalty of sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23), but Jesus became sin for us so we would have his perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:18-19).
Sanctification means to set apart for holy use; it is the process in which the Holy Spirit transforms us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). This transformation will not be complete until the day we die.
Glorification is the last step of salvation and is the ultimate eternal freedom from the penalty, power and presence of sin which occurs after the day we die. When Christ comes for his people, the final phase of salvation will be complete as we will receive our perfected and immortal bodies which give us access to the Father and we will commune in his presence for all eternity (1 John 3:2-3).
One of the most significant doctrinal differences between Mormonism and Christianity is how and when justification occurs.
As a Mormon, I was taught my justification was dependent on my sanctification. I could not obtain justification without total effort on my part (2 Nephi 25:23). Critically important to Christian doctrine is justification occurs the moment the believer transfers trust from their own righteous efforts to totally and completely depend on Jesus’ righteousness for their eternal life. At that very moment we have passed from death to life. The pages are ripped from our record which describes our life of disobedience and sin being replaced by the obedient and sinless record of Jesus so when God sees us, he sees Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We are freely justified before God not by our own performance and morality, but through the grace freely offered by trusting in the finished work of Christ alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:24,28, 4:4-5; Titus 3:4-7). It must be a free gift so no one can boast in their own performance (Romans 3:27-28, 4:2-3; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Personal righteousness and worthiness is an external change which does not address the internal issue - our hearts. All sin starts from within sprouting from our hearts (Matthew 15:18-19). Our own attempt at righteousness to help justify us before God is a behavioral change which puts God in a place of obligation to us. This stems from a pride-filled heart and will only drive you further from God’s grace. Our natural hearts yearn to believe our performance and morality play some role in earning salvation. This is the problem with our hearts. We want to share in some of the recognition, praise and glory. The Gospel clearly demonstrates all the glory goes to God, including his children inheriting eternal life through trusting in Christ alone (Ephesians 1:6-7; Romans 3:24-28). If our personal righteousness assisted in meriting eternal life, then the glory is shifted from God to man, which as Paul warned, is no Gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-8)
Tim Keller shared a story told in a sermon by Charles Spurgeon which demonstrates the point. "'Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, 'My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I've ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.' The king was touched and discerned the man's heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go the king said, 'Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.' And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king's court who overheard all this. And he said, 'My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?' So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, 'My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.' But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, 'Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.'
If we give God things in the hope that they will earn us blessings or heaven, then we are really not doing anything for him at all—it’s for ourselves. Only and experience of grace changes us so we do good things for goodness’ sake, for God’s sake" (Tim Keller, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, p. 17).
We can never do enough works or follow enough laws to prove ourselves to God. This was made very clear by Jesus to the law-abiding morally upright Pharisees. As clearly demonstrated, God is not concerned with making us religious, he wants a personal relationship. In order for this relationship to form, we must recognize the gospel is about what Jesus Christ has done for us, not what we do for ourselves. We must trust His word when He tells us Christ is not only essential for salvation, but he is enough for salvation.
Romans 5:18 says "Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Jesus] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life."
God has already declared to us out of his deep love for us he gave the life of his Son. Jesus’ work on the cross was all which was necessary to make peace and reconcile us to God (Colossians 1:20). On the cross, Jesus cried out, “it is finished,” declaring that our sin debt is paid in full. We could never merit the grace of God and any attempt to add to what Christ has done for us is nothing short of offensive to God. Christ has secured the favor of God for us. God loves us as we are, while we are still sinners, and receives us in Christ.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God’s amazing grace, his unmerited favor, has been freely poured out through Jesus Christ for all who trust in him alone for their eternal life. Trusting in Christ for eternal life is not the end of the road for the Christian, but merely the start of a growing love relationship with God. We are immature and young in our knowledge and understanding of God's amazing grace and love. Because we have been radically humbled through recognizing we have received the free gift of eternal life, which we could never earn ourselves, we can now begin to transform our biggest problem - our hearts.
In Christianity, sanctification is born from justification. Without justification having already been secured in Christ, biblical sanctification cannot occur.
The fruits of sanctification to earn justification are tainted because the efforts are done to glorify you, not God. This is the very definition of sin; living for my glory instead of living for the glory of God. A biblical understanding of God’s grace transforms the motivations of our hearts and is completely about what Jesus has done for us, not what we do for ourselves. Jesus taught us our problem is our hearts and striving to fix a heart problem through obedience to laws and personal righteousness will only bring temporary and superficial change.
Rules and regulations keep us in the yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1) and will never change the motivations of our hearts. Laws change a person's behavior through actions, but not their heart, and sin comes from a person's heart (Mark 7:18-23). Obedience to the law to assist in a reconciliation to God does not subdue or erase sin, but as Paul describes, it actually aggravates our sinful nature (Romans 7:7-13).
A perfect picture of this is conveyed by www.gotquestions.org1 from the book by John Bunyan titled The Pilgrim's Progress. "First, a man with a broom tries to clean the floor, but the broom’s only effect is to raise choking clouds of dust. The more he sweeps, the more the dust is stirred up; this is a picture of the law, Bunyan says, which cannot clean a sinful heart but only stirs up the sin. However, Christian watches as the broom is set aside and a young girl sprinkles the whole room with water. After that, the room is quickly cleaned; this is a picture of the gospel of grace and its ability to purify the heart. The grace of God can do what the law could never do: cleanse us from sin.
So, the way to stop sinning is not to add more rules. God knew this. In fact, He gave us the law so that we would be aware of our sin and turn to Him (Romans 3:19-20; Galatians 3:23-26). The law is good. It is a reflection of God’s nature and His perfection. But it was not given to us for our salvation. Christ fulfills the law for us (Matthew 5:17).
When we disagree with God and hang onto the idea that we must fulfill the law, we lose our joy in salvation and set ourselves up for failure. We labor under a terrible burden. We feel pressured to do something to secure salvation, but, at the same time, our sin nature renders us unable to obey the law. The more we focus on the law, the more our sin nature rebels. The more our sin nature rebels, the more frightened we become that we are not saved. The more frightened and joyless we become, the more tempting sin’s promise of happiness is.
The only way to break the cycle and stop sinning is to accept the fact that we cannot stop sinning. This may seem contradictory, but if a person does not stop trying to save himself, he will never rest in the knowledge that God has saved him. The joy of salvation comes from accepting the fact that God’s grace covers us, that He will change us and conform us to the image of Christ, and that it is His work, not ours (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 13:20-21). Once this reality is truly grasped, sin loses its power."
Using the law in an attempt to become worthy of reconciliation to God promotes segregation, not congregation. Laws cultivate fear, and fear is bondage. As believers in Christ, we are set free from fear and bondage of the law, for freedom to live out our lives with our new identity; as children of God. Romans 6:14 says, "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Even though we will still sin, it has no power over us; we are free to selflessly serve Jesus Christ. "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).
Until one has properly understood biblical grace, our efforts will always be tainted by doing them for the wrong reasons. We will live our life as if there is a contract between us and God. We will expect God’s blessings and favor in return for our efforts. As long as things in life are going smooth, our hearts will be subconsciously filled with self-righteousness and pride. When life takes a turn and gets rough, we feel shame and guilt in blaming ourselves, or even God.
When we trust in the love and amazing grace of God which has been revealed on the cross at Calvary, we will have the freedom to selflessly serve God and do his will. This is how the motivations of our hearts are transformed. We are sanctified in Christ and his love as we recognize the gospel of grace is not about us, it’s all about Jesus Christ. Christ transforms us from the inside out to look more like him. In recognizing the gospel of grace is all about Jesus Christ, our lives become more centered on Him and His grace and love, and less on ourselves and our personal attempts at self-salvation through personal righteousness.
John the Baptist recognized this when he said in John 3:30, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Our focus and motivation change from an obedience to earn the favor of God by showing our wonderful works and personal righteousness to an obedience out of the selfless love Christ has demonstrated for us through His sacrifice.
When we are justified by faith before God, we become sons and daughters of God (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26, 4:5-6). He identifies us as his children. The Bible declares we become a new creature created in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old us dies and the new us is alive in Christ. Because we are sons (and daughters), we are no longer slaves to sin. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. We are free from the enslavement law to serve and glorify God (Galatians 4:4-7, 5:1). Using the freedom from our new identity in Christ to go and sin is going back to slavery. Think of a drug addict whose addiction has wrecked his life. He goes to treatment and ends up being free from his addiction. Does he abuse his new freedom to go out and get high again? No, this would be falling back under the slavery of the drug.
This grace freely given through Christ is also not a licence to sin (Romans 6:1-2,15-16; Galatians 5:13) nor is it to be used to prop your feet up and do nothing. These selfish acts would not symbolize a heart being transformed by God. James 2:19 tells us even demons believe, but still tremble. Demons are not saved because their faith was dead; a simple belief in God without the fruit of a heart being transformed. A living faith understands the inability to assist in our salvation and produces fruit because of Christ's finished work for us. If you recognize and truly comprehend the magnitude of what Christ has already accomplished for you, then the Spirit will work in you to begin transforming your heart.
Jesus suffered through torture and crucifixion so we could be set free from the enslavement of the law. We have exchanged being slaves to a slave master in the law, to being free as children of the most high God. Since Jesus proved himself on our behalf and we trust in his work alone, we are free from the burden of proving ourselves to God. Because we are forever reconciled to God as His children and have been set free from the yoke of the law, we have liberty to selflessly serve and love because we are secure in knowing Christ has earned the blessing of God for us.
As our hearts are being transformed by Christ through the Spirit, we will still occasionally sin. Through God's amazing grace by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, this sin in not chalked against our account, does not chase away the Spirit with each sin, and does not impact the status of our relationship with God.
Imagine your child does not clean his room up as you have asked him to. Does his disobedience impact the status of your relationship to him as his father? Does it impact your love for him? No, correct? The same is with our new identity with God the Father. Our relationship to Him as his sons and daughters and His love for us is forever sealed through Jesus Christ. Our identity as children of God is the DNA of who we are because of Jesus Christ. Growing in our new identity is not about following a set of rules and regulations in a personal attempt to become like Jesus, it is something God does for and in his children. We now rejoice in and enjoy a direct, personal relationship with the Father.
Discovering the depth of God's amazing grace and love transforms our hearts as we shed our old identity and put on one which looks more and more like Jesus. We are now, as the Bible refers, "in Christ." And because Christ is not condemned, we are not condemned (Romans 8:1). Understanding it's all about what Christ has done for us is what transforms our hearts which will pour out through our actions. We will desire to submit to the will of the Father and worship him in faith, trusting in the finished work of Christ. Through our transfer of trust to Christ alone, we are given this new identity, a new heart and a new, selfless motivation for our obedience.
We become children of God by faith (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26) and as His children, we will receive all the rights, privileges and benefits in becoming heirs and joint heirs with Christ. If you think about an heir, do they earn through works or receive free gifts by right? An heir is someone who receives, not based on what they did, but what someone else earned, which is freely passed on to the heir. This is what Jesus has accomplished for us. Through his perfect obedience, he earned all the rights and privileges God offers and we become the heirs as these benefits are freely given to us. Because Christ was perfect, and we are now seen "in Christ," God sees us as perfect.
My Thoughts as I Recognize this Biblical Truth
As a Mormon, although my good works made me feel good and worthy, all they did was mask my real need. What I did not realize was the harder I worked and tried to earn the favor of God, the further and further my heart grew from him. I was becoming my own Savior and not trusting completely in Jesus as my sin-bearer. This is what Jesus tried to teach the Pharisees. I was trying to fix a heart problem by increasing my personal worthiness through rules and regulations, which did nothing but feed my pride and self-righteousness sending me deeper and deeper into spiritual blindness.
When John the Baptist said in John 3:30 that Jesus must increase and I must decrease, my natural heart wanted the opposite. I was sure I had to do something to assist in meriting eternal life and Mormon doctrine fed these desires. Instead of increasing Jesus and giving all the glory to God, through my personal righteousness to merit eternal life, I was increasing myself, stripping God of at least some of the glory and taking it for myself.
Too many people fall back into a form of self-salvation clinging to “shadows” for righteousness and acceptance when the “substance” is Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). Christ alone is your righteousness and acceptance. In these verses Paul admonishes the Colossians that Old Testament laws, such as dietary and Sabbath, were for those people under the law in a different dispensation. These things were done away through Jesus so they are not binding upon those under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8). It’s not that these laws are bad, but Jewish teachers were tempting Gentile converts to adhere to these laws to gain a greater acceptance by God and Paul rejects this heresy.
Erwin Lutzer said, "The better you believe yourself to be, the less grace you think you need" (Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure That You Spend Eternity With God, p. 31). This is exactly how I was taught in believing I was saved by grace after all I could do. What I failed to realize was the depth and nature of my sin and the holiness of God. I overvalued my goodness and undervalued God's holiness. No matter how much I strove for perfection, I was still an infinite distance from God's standard.
The bible teaches we are "dead in sin," meaning we are out of options to even assist in our justification (Ephesians 2:1,5). We are spiritually dead and only by the grace of God can we be made alive again. I was attempting to raise myself from the dead through my own righteousness, oblivious to what God had already done for me in Christ.
I recall a counselor in the Stake Presidency giving a talk at Stake Conference about what God has done for us. He said we are in a pit and God has lowered a ladder to us - this was his gift of grace - but it is up to us to climb out. This felt right to me at the time because it lined up with everything else I was being taught in Mormonism.
However, the Bible plainly teaches if there was something we could have done to assist in our salvation, that law would have been included (Galatians 3:21), but it wasn't as God knew we were out of options. God himself came down the ladder on a rescue mission to lift us out of the pit to be seated with him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-6). This rescue mission is absent our efforts because if they were part of the program, salvation would not be a gift and not be based completely on the grace of God. It would be a blender of our sin-tainted efforts with the grace of God, which is not grace (the unmerited favor of God) at all (Romans 11:6).
I was taught by Mormon church leadership that God's love and grace was essentially conditional. It came with strings attached. The more obedient I was at following the laws and the better my moral conformity, the better my chance was to live with God and Jesus in the Celestial heaven. This teaching taught me God's love and grace was based on my performance. I tried to rely on a combination of the grace of God and my righteousness.
Through studying the Gospel, I realized I was in need of a heavy dose of biblical grace to free me from my attempts at self-salvation. I desired the free and unconditional love and grace offered to all who believe. Thankfully, as a Christian, the Bible teaches because God has accepted me in Christ; when he sees my performance record, he sees the perfect performance record of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:19). What is transforming the motivations of my heart is God does not accept me on the basis of my performance record, but on the performance record of Jesus Christ.
I am amazed at God's grace. I am free knowing I will occasionally sin, yet know the spirit of the Lord will not depart with each sin as I was taught by LDS leadership. I am free to selflessly serve Christ as sin no longer has power over me because I am now under grace as a Christian, and no longer under the bondage of the law as a Mormon (Romans 6:14). I was fearful of judgment as a Mormon because I never knew if I had done enough, but being "in Christ" as a child of God by grace through faith, I am joyful to know for certainty that my place in heaven awaits (1 John 5:13). God's grace is not only amazing, it is all you need to transform your heart to become more like Jesus.
Lutzer aptly summarizes our dependence and need of grace by stating, "When you come to Christ, you do not come to give, you come to receive. you do not come to try your best, you come to trust. You do not come just to be helped, but to be rescued. You do not come to be made better (although that does happen), you come to be made alive. ... You do not come to Christ to make a promise; you come to depend on his promise. It is the faithfulness of God and not your own that gives the gift of grace ...The crushing experience of having to admit total helplessness apart from God's grace is not easy for any man. And that is why the way to life is narrow and few there be that find it" (Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure That You Spend Eternity With God, p. 45-47).
1"Why can't I stop sinning? Please help!" (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2014, from http://www.gotquestions.org/stop-sinning.html
THE CROSS UNVEILED